The Northville Review
an online literary journal
How to Kill a Witch

Angela Rydell

We sit at the table arguing about our dead mother’s collection of slinky black dresses. Apparently Mom told Glinda she’d get them, but didn’t tell Glinda she already told me I’d get them.

“Split them already,” says Birdbrain, rolling his eyes. All he wants is the house, its basement brewery and taxidermy workshop, and the cedar trunks filled with dad’s old stuffed deer heads, petrified birds and slick, glassy-eyed fish.

“Ha!” I say. “Yes! Split them. Birdbrain, you’re a genius.”

“My name is Brian.” He holds a giant three-point rack from some old buck dad got years ago, points it at me like he’s about to charge or something. Penis envy? he mouths.

I roll my eyes. Turn to Glinda. “Let’s throw ‘em all on her bed and go at it with scissors.”

“Yeah. Halvsies.”

When we were kids, Mom insisted on halvsies all the time, to be fair. One M&M left and she’d somehow find a jeweler’s knife and cut it down the middle.

Glinda and I giggle, not just any laugh. Our eyes lock, and we start in on that wheezy, nasal cackle we cultivated as witch sisters to freak little Birdbrain out. I’d stand before Glinda, about a foot shorter until that growth spurt in high school, so it worked for years, her head hovering just above mine. We’d lock arms and torment him like a two-headed witch-monster. “Be good witches!” our mother’d scold. I’m named Samantha, after the domesticated, twitchy nosed version on Bewitched. Yet we were both pretty bad to Birdbrain.

Birdbrain stares at us, his face alarmingly pale. We stop, simultaneously realize that old laugh sounds like our mother’s final wheezes. Birdbrain’s looking at us not like annoying sisters, but two separate yet freakishly connected incarnations of our mother.

Mom was a witch too. Born with a sixth finger, she was named after Anne Boleyn, killed for being a witch because of that finger—and because she didn’t produce a male heir. Mom hated her name until she was ten and saw Good Witch Glinda glittering kind and beautiful as a fairy, not a freak. Needed to prove she was good, beautiful — and fertile. At eighteen went to beauty school. At nineteen married young, got pregnant fast, and kept at it until she squeezed out a male heir. Kid number three. That’s Birdbrain — proof she needn’t be beheaded. Dad was finally happy. Though eventually he wanted to choke her to death for being so “good obsessed” she’d get ugly about it. Always on such a high horse.

Trying not to laugh, we both say, “Oh Birdbrain.” He raises his eyebrows, suddenly detached like dad would get, as if looking at us not as people but specimens: genus woman, species sister. I imagine our two heads stuffed like totems on Birdbrain’s wall after we die, rambling on, tormenting him from the walls, picking on what’s not good enough. Pretty witchy, really.

He clenches his jaw and taps at his pocket, his Swiss army knife. He likes to take it out and whittle at things, make figurines. Or just stab at pieces of wood, cut things up.

I swallow. He’ll now have dad’s much larger knives. This gets me thinking of Anne Boleyn and guillotines.

Our Anne died in her sleep, but not very peacefully. We all sat around her at the hospital when it happened. She seemed asleep, tossing fitfully. Then suddenly started dying in the middle of her nightmare. Wheezing and choking for a minute, then nothing.

Maybe even choked on something the doctors never found. Mouth twisted into a final grimace, she did look like a witch—just not the good kind.

I go from laughing to crying.

About the author

Angela Rydell's stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Sun, Alaska Quarterly Review, Indiana Review, The Portland Review, Inkwell, Flashquake, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Her fiction recently received honorable mention in New Millennium Writings Awards and was a finalist for the American Short(er) Fiction contest and Grey Sparrow Journal Flash Fiction contest. She is a recipient of Poets & Writers’ Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award and holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College.